Occupiers having an impact — on residents and merchants

By Cynthia Magnus

It’s been almost three weeks since the Occupy Wall Street protestors first showed up at Zuccotti Park. Last week, some of them attended Community Board 1’s full board meeting in an effort to connect with local residents.

“I think we established a dialogue,” said Pat Moore, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Quality of Life Committee, about a subsequent informal meeting held Oct. 3 with some members of the Occupy Wall Street group who are camped in Zuccotti Park. The purpose was to discuss ways in which relations between the Downtown community and the protesters might be eased.

At the C.B.1 full board meeting on Tues., Sept. 27, Financial District Committee Chairperson Ro Sheffe proposed a resolution that the board urge the Mayor’s Office to address the disruptions to area residents and local businesses caused by the occupation. The resolution suggested that Zuccotti Park owner Brookfield Properties take measures to reopen space in the park for use by local residents and office workers, for the Police Department to enforce existing noise control laws, and for the Health Department to designate the Financial District as a noise sensitive zone.

The issue was tabled until the committee’s public meeting on Oct. 5, to give members time for further discussion. An Occupy Wall Street community relations committee member, Justin Wedes, was among those invited to attend the Oct. 3 meeting.

Sheffe said he raised four main issues related to the occupation: noise disruption, pedestrian and vehicular disruption, sanitation, and dual use for the occupiers and local park users. Sheffe said it was important for the protesters to understand the background of the community, which has grown by 300 percent in 10 years.

“They are surrounded by people who are raising families in this neighborhood, not the barons of Wall St.,” said Sheffe.

The C.B.1 committee requested that the protesters remove the drummers that currently play in Zuccotti. One protester suggested that the drummers might move to the southernmost area of Battery Park.

At the occupiers’ “general assembly” session held later on Oct. 3 they voted to pass Wedes’s proposal to move up “quiet hours” — currently starting at 11 p.m. — to 10 p.m. They also voted to ask C.B. 1 to support their application to the police for a sound permit to allow the use of a megaphone in the park.

At the Sept. 29 First Precinct Community Council meeting it was explained to the several protesters in attendance that the police cannot issue a sound permit without permission from the property’s owner.

One occupier named Katie complained about the way earlier arrests were handled, but noted that police have been “mostly helpful.” Another protester said Occupy Wall Street is a decentralized organization and asked about the best way to have a discourse with the police.

Inspector Edward Winski said, “My community affairs guys have gone into the crowd since day one, and can’t find anyone to speak to. When there’s a leadership structure, we sit down and work it out.”

Wedes said that it’s “in everyone’s interest” for the group to be approved for the sound permit, since the nightly general assembly meetings in the park would go faster, and that “a low megaphone would actually be quieter than the “people’s mic” — a system in which a speaker’s statement is repeated loudly by the crowd so that everyone can hear.

Ted, a protester, stated his personal opinion when asked if the need for a megaphone might be eliminated if the drummers stopped playing during general assembly. Currently, participants must shout over the drums.

“It doesn’t make sense for people to be disruptive during G.A.,” he said. “It also means that the people at G.A. are missing the drum circle.”

But Wedes said he doesn’t think it’s “plausible” to ask the drum circle to remove themselves from Zuccotti.

“We want them with us,” he said. “Maybe if we all move to Battery Park — we are getting bigger.”

Liberty St. residents Tony and Carla said they and their children have lost all access to the park, which they say has been defaced and filled with garbage.

“The city planners are making living here impossible,” said Carla. “After Sept. 11 they said, ‘Come live down here.’ They have to provide residents some better level of protection and recognition.”

One produce vendor at the Tuesday greenmarket at Zuccotti Park said his business is down about 10 percent since the occupation.

Aly, whose cart on Cedar St. sells only breakfast items, said his business has been off 40 percent since the occupation.

The manager at a local fast-food restaurant told the campers last week that they were unwelcome to occupy tables and use the toilets. He said they use the electrical outlets for their devices — something that was always prohibited — and that the restrooms were defaced with stickers and graffiti.

“Lots of tourists come to visit the [9/11] Memorial and want to relax and have lunch,” he said.

Councilmember Margaret Chin said, “My office is handling quality of life issues as they arise, and I urge all residents who are affected by the protests to contact my office.”

Lucille, who works in the area, said she hears the occupiers’ chants from her office, but it’s not disruptive.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I hope something really good comes out of it.”